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CHAPTER I - Introduction

The networked devices dispersed on store shelves, factory floors, city streets, home surfaces and the human body are creating an Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT outfits the physical world with digital intelligence and moves data flows to the atomic level. A sushi restaurant puts sensors on its plates to assess, in real time, what’s being eaten so it can adjust its food offerings. An environmental monitoring firm analyzes sensor data from construction sites to keep a lid on noise. A city monitors traffic flows, energy use and trash can levels. A health care provider collects data on individual medication metabolism. A company sells a microcontroller for dozens of connected devices, a cloud-based system for managing them and analytics to make meaning from the data they produce. Wearables, massive sensor networks, and public and enterprise deployment of IoT technologies raise important policy questions about privacy, security, equity, innovation, governance and growth. Some are familiar—like Internet policy questions—only on a significantly larger scale. Others are new.

This report explores the nascent promises and challenges of the IoT. It documents the Twenty-Ninth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Communications Policy, entitled "Developing Policies for the Internet of Things," that convened 35 participants on August 13–16, 2014, in Aspen, Colorado. The Conference itself organized the discussion around three general topics: data as infrastructure, adoption and digital inclusion issues, and government role. In light of the cross-cutting issues, this report organizes its policy examination and recommendations according to six principal areas of focus: Data as Infrastructure; Privacy; Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity; Civic Engagement; Telecommunications Network Architecture; and Security. It drills down on some of these policy questions in the context of the use case of the Smart City. Before reaching these issues, we start by describing what we mean by the IoT and mapping its applications and architecture.

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